Hint: Focus on substance over style

Virtual meetings are part of the new normal for the global business community. This creates a new type of pressure to tell a good business story without the benefit of personal charisma and with a limited ability to ‘read the room’.

In this new business paradigm, it’s easy to get bogged down in the production & mechanics of your presentation. Thankfully, as with in-person meetings, it’s the substance of the conversation that matters most. But I also want to share some expert tips and skills you can polish that will make your next virtual presentation a crushing success.

Get To The Point

Getting and maintaining your audience’s attention during a virtual presentation is challenging. The best way to counteract this—put the most critical information upfront.

BLUF Your Introduction

BLUF image
Bottom Line Up Front

BLUF, or Bottom Line Up Front, is a great way to start your presentation with confidence.. Putting the bottom line in front of your audience in the first minute focuses the conversation on what’s vital and prevents you and them from drifting off topic. Your BLUF should also have a point of view. Make the stakes clear and you will create an automatic emotional response that gets and keeps your audience’s attention.

Prepare With A Brief

To keep your presentation as focussed and impactful as possible, consider writing yourself a “brief” beforehand.

We suggest a basic outline similar to this:

  • Establish the intent of the meeting ASAP.
  • Express a point of view.
  • Support your point of view with at least three reasons to believe in it.
  • Close with your call to action, or call to arms.

Take a few minutes to prepare a brief that reminds you to get your BLUF out early and then support your bottom line while your audience focuses on it.

Develop Succinct & Scannable Slides

Slides are a presentation tool that is there to support your conversation, not replace it. If your slides are just reiterating what you’ve already said, or you pack them with chart junk or impenetrable graphs, then you’ve wasted time making them because they’ll be like speed bumps to comprehension and synthesis of the information you’ve been given an opportunity to present.

However, used correctly, slides are an excellent support tool that enhances a virtual presentation.

Keep it Simple

No-one expects or needs you to be an artist. Keep your slides clean, direct, and easy to understand. If you are including charts, make sure they are understandable at a glance. Make sure they have a headline. Folks should be able to understand them in 10 seconds or less. If they can’t, your audience is going to ignore them.

Avoid Repetition

If you distributed a pre-read prior to your presentation, don’t re-cover that ground at the same density level. Your slides are there to enhance and support the case you are trying to make, not repeat it. Use slides to add supplementary color that reinforces or expands on your point. Sprinkle in metaphors, anecdotes or case studies that bring your points to life.

Monitor Your Audience

If you are presenting slides, consider using a separate screen to monitor your audience’s engagement and see what they see. You don’t want to find out halfway through the presentation that you’ve been showing your audience your entire screen when you only intended them to see your PowerPoint slide show.

Stay ADA Compliant

Transition to a new virtual environment is an excellent opportunity to address lingering accessibility issues. There are some great resources on creating accessible presentations, but the basics are:

  • Make your text and essential visuals big enough to read even from the back of the room, regardless of what format they come in. Think of your slides as bumper stickers, not teleprompters.
  • Avoid fancy fonts and instead opt for an easier to read option with a consistent thickness.
  • Always use sufficient color contrast and check your presentations for color-blindness compatibility.

Tackle Complexity With Metaphors Analogies and Anecdotes

Metaphors and analogies are an excellent way to clarify complexity by comparing the new and uncommon with something familiar, so don’t be afraid to include them.

Overusing them can degenerate what you are trying to say into flowery overcomplexity, but used correctly, they are an excellent comprehension tool.

Look Your Best

As with any other form of public speaking, the way you dress and the image you present is the first piece of information you’ll be giving to your audience.

Dress for success might be a worn-out saying, but it still has some truth to it. Here are some simple steps you can take to present your virtual self in the best light possible.

Frame Yourself Properly

The human eye and your audience’s attention are naturally drawn to faces, so center yourself properly in the screen. Try thinking of your screen as a postage stamp to give you some idea of how much of your head and shoulders should be visible. It’s more than you think.

Maintain Eye Contact

Eye contact equals attention, but it’s much harder to make that connection through a webcam.

Here’s a trick that most people don’t know – try positioning your camera so the lens is in line with your forehead or even a bit higher. If you get the positioning right, it will look as though you are looking directly into the camera when you’re actually looking at what’s on your screen.

Invest in Some Lighting

It’s always worth picking up skills from other sectors that can benefit your work. Any YouTuber worth their monetization will tell you the importance of a lighting rig.

Natural light never quite looks as good as something a little more stage-managed. You don’t need to invest in anything that’s feature-film quality. A simple LED ring light or cube attached to your monitor can make a massive difference in the way people see you.

Related to this, if you do a lot of presenting and you wear glasses, invest in some non-glare lenses.

Cut Down on the Distractions

You might be famous around the office for your funky or bespoke style, but there’s a time and place for that. It’s harder to hold an audience’s attention during a virtual presentation, so you’ll want the minimum of distractions.

Try to keep your virtual backgrounds, clothing, and even your presentation itself as business-like as possible. If you can, get rid of the virtual background altogether. Everyone knows you’re at home. Unless you’re a slob, you don’t need a virtual background and if you insist on using one, then work on getting it right. Seeing you ghost in and out of the screen as you move is distracting and unprofessional.

Keep Your Energy Up

Don’t let your virtual presentation devolve to the point where your audience is blankly staring at you as you robotically run through slides. Remaining high energy will stop people’s attention from sliding off onto Slack chats or open email tabs. Do not read your slides! If all you’re going to do is read your slides, you can skip the meeting and just email your deck.

Also, consider giving your presentation standing up. Don’t be afraid to move around and use gestures to emphasize your points. People who record a lot of video know they need to exaggerate their energy and body language. The same is true for presentations.

And one last thing. If it’s a high-stakes presentation, rehearse your entire presentation – OUT LOUD – at least once before going ‘LIVE.’ You’ll catch little things you won’t catch if you’re rehearsing in your head. And if you can find an audience for your rehearsal, even better.